Thursday, March 1, 2018

It's Transforming!

Magnet tiles have always been one of the preschoolers favorite activities to start the day, during transition periods and other parts during the day.  Over the years almost anything you can imagine has been created: zoos, houses, trains, the longest line of tiles ever, vehicles.  The most favorite thing to build lately has been space ships of one sort or another.  During this time, I often place myself nearby, mimicking and talking about what I notice.
"Oh wow.  Look how those are connected!  Can you tell me more?"
"That one has a blaster?  I wonder why?"
"I don't think I've seen a design like that before.  It looks like you decided to use all isosceles triangles this time."
My goal is to highlight the work that is happening ( "I see...." or "I notice....") and then extend what the next step or help encourage the wonder ( "I wonder..." or "What's next..." or "What's the story....").  This also helps me to connect with them and build our relationship, as I spend time and share my presence in the morning.

Most recently, something new has been happening with the magnet tiles.  At first I didn't notice it happening until one day when one child began to teach another child how to build "a transformer spaceship blasting off."  I feel like I am often quite present during my time when I am with the children, but some how this theme of transformation had slipped under my focus.  The more I looked for it, the more I saw the children adding the idea of using the magnet's natural force of attraction into their spaceship play, creating vehicles which transform as they move or land.
It began by one child building one shape over and over.  He laid the pieces out very carefully, then lifted the shape and the flattened pieces fell and attracted together, because of the magnets, causing the shape to change.  "It blasted off and then transformed!" he cheered.  This concept was very attractive to the other children nearby, and soon others were asking how it worked.  It turned out it took a deft hand to make the transformation happen smoothly, and there were many crashes before a smooth take off was achieved by everyone.  This refinement of movement and working through a logical series of events was attractive to everyone involved as it speaks to a preschooler's need for order and attraction to the scientific process.  But it seemed even more than that to me, as a sense of community was forming around the idea of transforming and the new way these familiar blocks were being used.  A new language was being developed and allowed for the children to speak to each other, to share stories with each other  and delve deeper into this material in a new and exciting way.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Commonly Used Pre-School Phrases: "You're not my friend!"

In the 8 years I've been teaching, I have heard a handful of phrases that children will use with each other on a constant basis. Some sound like they may be a bit too harsh when heard, making us feel that we need to intervene or maybe question what deep seeded meaning is behind the phrase. As I continued my education and my experience with working with preschool age, I've come to learn and even welcome these phrases into the classroom. What better way to prepare ourselves for the world outside Tumbleweed than with being able to have conflict-resolutions scenarios inside the classroom now? For part one of my blog series, I will start with the one we all know so well:

"You're not my friend." 

It's one of the most common phrases children will say, starting as early as 2 and continuing on through Elementary school. When I first heard this phrase, it was easy to say, "We're all friends in school" . What I learned through experience was that it wasn't necessarily the friendship I was seeking from the children, but rather the respect for each other that needed to start being practiced.

"What's my job?" As L and C are busy at work, A finds that he wants to join, but also notices a game is already in progress. A common phrase we use at Tumbleweed is "what's my job", which opens the door for more opportune moments of creativity and the ability to let everyone have the chance to play.
At school, we get to be kind and caring to everyone there because it's how we would like to be treated, as well. When we as adults hear this phrase, we automatically feel for the child being ostracized, because we know that friendships are some of the key components to a healthy and sustainable experience at school. For a child in preschool though, this scenario will play out in a completely different matter.  One child may say "you're not my friend" because another child is playing with a toy that the other wants one minute and the next move on to another game or toy completely forgetting the toy they desired a moment before. The phrase shouldn't been seen as harsh, but instead viewed as an opportunity to help the child find the words and emotions they are searching for in that particular moment. 

When I find myself hearing this phrase, I make my presence known to them, but don't interfere right away. At Tumbleweed, we are firm believers in letting the children have as many opportunities to be independent thinkers and actors of their own choices. More times than not, a child is stating this phrase as a way to express a need of theirs. Touch, proximity, and open relationships all combined together are keystones to preschool relationships.
"I'm using these blocks. All of them." LT explains to LD. "But how about we build together so I can build a tower with you?" LD exclaims, making LT feel more relaxed when hearing that LD wasn't wanting to take her blocks, but instead build together as to not disrupt her already built structure. In moments like these, we are able to witness the key components utilized but little guidance or instruction from teachers.
With these keystones in mind I ask myself these questions:

What lead up to this situation?
Are all parties feeling heard?
How can we help them say what is true? 

John Meyer's book Kids Talking: Learning Relationships and Culture with Children, stated that "children relate friendship to practical acts like playing together, sharing a toy, or giving something to another. The ability to reciprocate and meet the other's expectations was crucial for building relationships." Once a situation is assessed and the children are feeling heard, we are able to move onto the stage of finding words that make us feel good and that we would want someone to say to us if the roles were reversed. It's in those crucial moments that we are able as educators to give them the tools and words to assist them in expressing their feelings and emotions in a productive way that benefits all parties. After that, we send them off to grow and learn from their actions and flourish into the wonderful human beings we know they are starting to become.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Toilet Learning

Over the last month I have come to realize how much time we are spending in the bathroom these days. Many of the children in Cohort 10 and 12 are in underwear, and it just makes me think so much about the process of toilet learning (or Potty Training). When does it start? When is the process complete? What skills are they learning that they use outside of the bathroom?
I took an online training course once specifically for Potty Training and in this course, they referred to the process as Toilet Learning. It really stuck with me and made me think that us helping children figure out how to control their bladder, bowels and about the toilet was a lot of work for them and not so much for us. They need to take their own time and go at their own pace to not only figure out the toilet (what it is, what we use it for, and why flush, besides it being fun) but recognize signals their bodies give them when they need to go. We’re not “training” them for toilet use but supporting their natural learning process.

With that being said, when does Toilet Learning start? At Tumbleweed we are constantly talking to them in the bathroom about their bodies, about what we notice in their diapers (Whether it be wet, dry or a BM), with infants we are commenting when we notice them looking at the toilet or touching it, identifying what it is. We also talk to the infants a little about what some of the older children are doing on the toilet and in the bathroom while they lay on the floor for their change. While it may not seem like this is part of Toilet Learning it is a foundation for future conversations. As infants progress to being wobblers there is a shift in gears… Diaper changes happen while the children are standing, and they have access to the toilet if they want to sit or just take a peak. Also as wobblers we encourage each child to work with us on their clothing (assisting us in pulling down their pants for a diaper change). All of this process is child led, as their carers we are just answering questions (even the unasked questions of infants) and offering opportunity for them to explore the bathroom. Now that Cohort 10 and 12 are toddlers so much has changed from the wobbler stage in the bathroom.

Every child is:

Taking off his/ her own clothes
Removing their own diapers/ underwear
Most are sitting on the toilet every bathroom break regardless if pee or poop come
Wiping their bodies with toilet paper
Putting their clothes back on
Washing their hands
We have a consistent bathroom routine and set times throughout the day that we go in to use the toilet which they have all become accustomed to. At this stage they have made my role more of a presence, as I am just available for support or any needed assistance.

As they continue with the Toilet Learning process I wonder when is it considered complete? When are they beyond the Potty Training phase? Is it when they are no longer in diapers through nap or overnight? When they are telling us when they need to use the toilet? I feel like it is so hard to pinpoint and honestly why would you want to? I think every child is different, accidents happen… That is why they are called accidents after all. I also feel like their bodies are constantly changing and that there is always more to learn. For example, a few weeks ago one of the children was pushing on the tank lid… This of course made me nervous and I jumped in to stop it from falling. I talked with everyone in the bathroom about how the lid is heavy, and if it fell it could hurt someone or break AND then I asked if they wanted to see inside the tank because we could look if they were feeling curious. It was a pretty amazing thing to look at, we talked about all the parts and how everything was attached and even got to see what happened when we flushed it.

While a lot of our time in the bathroom surrounds the toilet they are doing so much more then just going pee or poop. They are working on dressing and undressing themselves, taking care of their bodies and practicing good hygiene, and making decisions on their own. There are many times I notice children’s skills from the bathroom carrying over to other parts of our day… When we are getting gear on to go outside they need minimal assistance as they have lots of practice dressing in the bathroom. When there is juice on their hands from oranges or dirt from outside they notice on their own and declare they need to wash their hands. When they feel mucus running out of their nose they know just where the clothes are to wipe it. There is just so much body autonomy that grew from the foundation of communication we started during their first diaper changes at Tumbleweed!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Setting Limits with Confidence

What are limits? 
When talking about setting limits for young children, it's good to know what limits are to begin with. In short, they are rules we set that help us establish appropriate boundaries for children depending on their age, developmental level and other factors. Limits are important, helping a child feel safe and secure in their environment and their relationships with the caregivers in their life.

Types of Limits
Always (Red light) Limits - Always true, regarding safety
Sometimes (Yellow light) Limits - Situational, more flexible, time-based
Rare (Green light) Limits - special occasion, rarely happen, based on own energy-level
Why is setting age-appropriate limits important?
Boundaries are comforting and help a child know what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. It also helps a child feel free when they know what is expected of them, since it relieves them from the burden of making choices that they might not be ready for. Toddlers want us to be in charge even when it doesn't seem like it. When toddlers are given too much freedom without consistent boundaries, it can lead to future destructive behaviors such as inflicting damage on themselves or others as an unconscious call for more boundaries. 

Why do toddlers push or test limits?
Children are emotional and are learning impulse control so they need to be given boundaries that will keep them safe and effective discipline that teaches them to have respect for themselves, others and their surroundings. They are learning to assert their will and personality. Testing is a positive sign of the trust children have developed in us to listen to them and do things with them, instead of for them or to them. Some of the most common reasons children push limits is because their needs aren’t being met. They could be overly tired, hungry, stressed out or be over or under stimulated. Children also push limits when they are trying to understand or clarify something related to them, like our expectations for them. Sometimes an expectation we set might be clear to us, but confusing to the child. It is important to set simple expectations that are easy for a child to understand and don't require much explanation. Another reason why toddlers push limits is to get our attention, especially if they feel ignored. As teachers, showing a genuine interest in each child, and demonstrating patience and respect with each interaction is vital for children to feel that they are loved and important people. 

So, how do we react to limit pushing behaviors?

First, before we react, we need to step back and think. It's so easy to react out of an emotion but our knowledge of the child's development should be in the forefront of our minds before we say or do anything.

Identify our expectations.  
Are they age appropriate? Are we perceiving a child’s normal behavior as a problem? If so, how do we set realistic expectations? It's a good sign if a child expresses demands and desires because it shows that he or she is secure. Insecure children are afraid to demand. All emotions are normal and should be accepted, even the most uncomfortable ones like anger, sadness, confusion or disappointment. Maintain a neutral, even, “all feelings allowed” attitude. If we accept their feelings, they will too. Children look up to us for everything and notice everything we do. There's almost nothing we can hide, including our feelings. If we get easily frustrated at a child's emotions then we lose stability as their leader and romodel.

Re-Frame our Perspective.  
If we re-frame our outlook and change our perspective, we can see a child's age-appropriate behavior, as normal, instead of problematic.

Helpful words to tell ourselves: 
This isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity.
This is just what is happening right now. It’s part of the process of growth and learning.
Lets find a way to do this together.

Children look to us to be a confident leader. That means not wavering back and forth between what we allow and what we don't. We need to set consistent limits. Ambivalence can be detected easily by children and they will test the limits we set repeatedly if we sound like we are unsure of them. Keep it simple and don’t obsess over a child’s behavior by making it bigger than it needs to be. Children learn best through natural consequences and short explanations.

Setting Appropriate Limits

Here are a few guidelines to help you along the path with setting limits with confidence!
  • Stay calm and don’t show strong emotions. That can draw attention to something minor and make it bigger than it needs to be
  • Directly and concisely address the behavior we see as problematic
  • When a limit needs to be set respond immediately or it’s too late. Toddlers live in the moment.
  • Acknowledge the child’s wants and feelings first. When a child feels understood he or she senses empathy behind our limits and corrections.
  • Only say what is true. Don’t just assume you know what the child wants or needs. Sometimes it's better to wait and see rather than react prematurely and not get the full picture of what is going on


Janet Lansbury's article "The Real Reasons Toddlers Push Limits" posted Oct. 23rd, 2013 on

Book "No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame"- Janet Lansbury, Chap. 1: The key to healthy and effective discipline is our attitude; Chap. 2: Talking to Toddlers; Chap. 5: A Toddler's need for boundaries

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mastery of Skills

Fine motor skills is the ability for children (adults too) to use their hands and fingers in synchronization with their eyes; the use of small muscles and their coordination. Examples of fine motor skills are using the pincher grasp to hold a pencil and make a line, using scissors to make a cut in paper, using tweezers to pick up a pom pom, pouring water from a pitcher into a cup without (or with minimal) spillage, stacking one block on top of another. The list goes on and on, there is practice and exposure to fine motor activities in a lot of what we do at tumbleweed.

Over the course of a year I have witnessed a lot of fine motor development within Cohort 10 and even in the 6 months I have had with Cohort 12. Toddlers never cease to amaze me, maybe that is why toddlers have always been my favorite age group. When introduced to a new material, children go through a process of investigating said material, observing what peers are doing with the material, and testing theories. For this blog I am going to be using scissors as my example material; it is still a new material for some, but everyone has had a chance to investigate. During this process I witnessed children sitting quietly in a chair as they watched what other children were doing with the scissors. When they did pick up the scissors they were using both hands to open and close the handle, looking closely at the work they were doing with their hands and noticing that opening and closing the handles was also opening and closing of the blades. The opening and closing of the scissors is where a lot of children are at with this material, they have watched other children cut the paper available but have not shown interest in doing it themselves; they are still investigating their materials.

Practicing is a next step, whether it be a continuation of their investigation or a step all on its own. The children are finding a way that works for them to use the material and there is no wrong way. Regardless of whether the scissors cut paper they are still working their fine motor skills by coordinating their fingers to grasp the handles and their hands to open and close them. They use their practice time to fine tune their skills and continue to test their theories of what works and how they can do work with these scissors.
Mastery is a step some of the older kiddos are at. When they see scissors available they recall all of their experience with the material and remember the process (investigation, practice and execution). They have spent an adequate amount of time investigating and testing the material, and now they have learned how to hold the scissors with one hand and the paper with the other while they make a small cut. Often what I notice at this point is that they are not cutting all the way across the page, but making a slit to then ripe the paper or even cutting close to the corner or edge so a small piece comes off. It is their greatest accomplishment.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Working through gender biases

It’s been about a month since my time started here at the preschool and I can honestly say it’s quickly becoming a second home. I even received an “I love you,” today from one of the kiddos! It’s a wonderfully heartfelt and passionate group of kids and I feel as though they help me learn more about myself everyday. I wanted to take some time and highlight in this blog post my personal thoughts and feelings on the gender bias I’ve not only noticed in myself but often in the behaviors of the children at the school.

As I walked into the preschool to start off the day, I was greeted by the normal “Steve’s here!” I always smile at everyone and wish them all a good morning as I head to the kitchen to put my lunch in the fridge. I happened to be carrying a banana one morning and overheard one (male) child say, “Steve! Bananas are only for girls! Eww!” Now in the past, I would have let this comment brush over my shoulder, because obviously that comment isn’t true and he was probably just trying to be funny to his classmates. Unbeknownst to him, I had recently learned through a training with my AmeriCorps cohort, that racism and sexism is a systemic problem in the USA mainly because it goes about unchecked by friends, family, and those in role model positions. As an educator, I couldn’t let these comments slide anymore. I gently approached the child and very matter of factually stated, “I just wanted you to know, that bananas can be eaten by anybody, whether you’re a boy or a girl.” Unexpectedly, there was little reaction from the child, but it’s moments like these that we miss, or simply choose not to engage in, all too often. Moments like these build upon each other and taking 10 seconds to correct an out-of-place exclamation, comment, or joke can be vital in who these kids become as they mature into adulthood. One of my duties as an educator is to provide, establish, and reinforce building blocks for these children to lean on to become healthy functioning people in society. Of course, this one moment in itself probably won’t change the course of this child’s life, but it’s certainly a block they can use as they build their “life’s tower.”

It’s important to me to make sure every child feels empowered to fulfill their dreams and not feel limited to anything because of their gender. For example, I want girls to feel strong and boys to learn gentleness because a capable, resilient, and loving human knows how to be both strong and gentle at the correct times. When a child trips, falls, and begins to cry I always tell them to pick themselves up (unless it’s a serious injury, of course), because it instills an inner strength within them. Once they’re up, I always offer a hug and any comfort them may need, tell them, “You’re strong” and “You’re alright,” to reassure them, then send them about their way. Learning how to pick themselves up when they’re down is just as an invaluable skill as learning how to be gentle with words and actions. I enjoy working with the students by providing reminders of what gentle play looks like and also talking about how our words can also have an impact on our friends.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Mindfulness and Yoga: Moving, Relaxing, and Centering Ourselves

It all started with a nap mat and a little imagination.

Nap time can be a tricky time for preschool. There's so many transitions; from the lunch table, to the bathroom to setting up our mats it's no wonder there is some extra built up energy that needs to be released. Instead of letting the energy get the best of us, I decided to utilize the energy into a practice that can be used throughout the day; mindfulness.
To quote a great site that has some useful mindfulness steps for children, 

"The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to recognize their thoughts as 'just thoughts,' to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognize when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for impulse control."

Now to bring us back to nap time, our mats, and our imagination.

I asked them to close their eyes and imagine their mats were boats about to set sail for the open ocean to go on a fishing trip. They were hooked. Using common yoga poses, we were able to be engaged and centered as we caught starfish, whales, and fishes.

 B and D were whales, diving into the ocean and coming back up for air. The motion of bringing their head lower than their heart helped encourage a calm state, which in turn helped them to focus on the next ocean animal they were going to catch.

D spreads out on his mat like a starfish after squeezing his body up tight like a ball. It feels so good to release our bodies after a tense moment, such as squeezing all our muscles together.

At the end of our yoga adventure, I asked the children to place their hands over their hearts and listen. Some decided to participate and some did not, opting for a book instead. The ones who did place their hands on their hearts became still, quiet, and mindful of their heart beat, slowing down their breath and taking note of how it was slowing down. Even though it only lasted for a few seconds, it was truly a magical thing to witness them centering their thoughts and bodies.  That's when I decided to not only make this a nap time routine, but to find a way to implement it throughout the school day.

 Some of the best times we were able to use our new strategies were during group time. We would take deep breaths and see if we could be as quiet as possible. Then we'd ask if they could hear the running water from the sink or the cars passing outside, encouraging them to listen even closer.

We've also been keen in some heavy pushing and stretching right before nap time to help us get some of the energy out through the bottoms of our feet and hands as we pushed with all our might against the hard surface of the wall.

L and A show practice pushing up against the wall before nap time, helping to utilize the energy out their feet and hands which in turn helps relax their bodies more.

I found the more I actively practiced breathing and keeping calm, more times than not the children would perk up and want to participate with me. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. The best part of it all is that it's being practiced consistently. Soon enough it will become a habit, and what a great habit to start having in our wonderful school.